If it’s the biggest ever convention on the Media & Entertainment sector in Asia, as the organisers tout it to be, one would expect an Asian-at-heart visionary to do some serious talking and lay the roadmap for the industry to debate during the course of the convention, but at the inaugural function of FICCI Frames 2011, it was James Murdoch, Chairman and CEO, Europe and Asia at News Corp, who chose to take on the mantle and sound a wake-up call to all those assembled.
The single biggest point that Murdoch had to address to one and all gathered at the venue – minus any representative from the I&B Ministry – was digitisation.
Murdoch was joined on stage by a host of dignitaries that included Harsh Mariwala, President, FICCI; Yash Chopra, Chairman, FICCI Entertainment Committee; Karan Johar, Co-Chairman, FICCI Entertainment Committee; Uday Shankar, Chairman, FICCI Broadcast Forum and Kamal Haasan, Chairman, FICCI Media Entertainment Business Conclave.
Murdoch began by stating that while millions still come to India to savour the richness of its culture, these days there are a new breed of visitors who are increasingly stepping foot here: people who come to see the future.
Reminiscing his early days in India, Murdoch was quick to take self-credit for being a part of a new wave of programming – that began with ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ – that redefined the way GECs were viewed in India. “At Star in 1999 and 2000, we made a choice to triple down here, in a marketplace we were sure had the potential to change all of our lives,” said Murdoch.
Sharing his views on competition, Murdoch said, “We did have fierce competitors in the past and have them even today, and I anticipate even more in the future, but I hope we have met them in the marketplace fairly – and a little fiercely too. But at the same time, I believe that we will have to work together to give the Indian people something they have not yet seen: a media sector that will be the envy of the world.”
Awakening the sleeping tiger
The high point of his talk was when Murdoch said that India’s creative force was a sleeping tiger that was waiting to be awakened. Murdoch averred, “We all know that even at rest tigers are impressive, yet only when a tiger is awake and engaged can we appreciate its force and majesty. That is our challenge with India’s creative sector: to imagine what this slumbering tiger might do in the right environment.”
Murdoch proceeded to highlight two broad areas that needed immediate attention: digitisation of infrastructure and what can be done to bring Indian storytellers and journalists to important conversation platforms around the world. Choosing to begin with an avenue that needed dire attention, Murdoch was of the view that digitisation was the key to unlocking the potential of the creative sector.
“With digitisation, the Indian industry will finally have the incentives to invest and create.” Stating that India today had roughly around 250 million television homes, only 120 million of these had some form of multichannel television. Further, only 30 million homes were digital in nature. According to Murdoch, “The reason for this poor showing is not because we see digital as simply another competing technology, on the contrary, digitisation brings content distribution and connectivity together – and helps them come alive. That is the reason why most nations are assigning digital infrastructure as their top priority.”
Taking his point on digitisation ahead and casting his views on the cable operators, Murdoch said that when it comes to innovations, none come from the cable fraternity. “Innovations come from the digital class. As for cable, it has failed to take into account the only constituency that truly matters: the customer,” said Murdoch. “The best way is to accelerate the liberalisation of digital broadcasting, which can be done by allowing greater investment as well as greater latitude for innovation,” he continued.
While on investments, Murdoch stressed that digitisation itself was in need of funds. He called upon the government and the industry to work out ways to relax investment and ownership regulations for the benefit of the viewer.
Continuing his praise for digital, Murdoch said that the 30 million Indian homes that had digital were the ones who were better placed to demand newer and better services. “As a result, in the last year alone, the industry was witness to the launch of new shopping channels, more TV journalism, HD broadcasting, etc.”
Innovating above the field
Moving away from the topic of digitisation, Murdoch highlighted the need for broadcasters to cater to the viewing demands of the audience. “Transparent and deregulated digitisation will unleash a content revolution in India but viewers deserve choice. In a diverse country like India, no channel can try to be everything to everyone. The only way to succeed will be to innovate above the field.”
Murdoch further urged the gathering to relook at the way they were catering to assimilating news for the viewers. “We need to look outside of covering just local news and broaden coverage around global news. We need to send more teams outside India’s borders to cover important global events; improve talent in the newsrooms.”
Concluding his remarks, Murdoch said that while much of the world was grey and tired, India was young and eager. “While some societies are led by men of force, India is led by those who rule the ballot box. My message for you would be to envision a future where a television studio in Mumbai would be exporting new formats to stations abroad, where a film director in Bangalore would be having a large following in London and Los Angeles and where a news network here could provide an Indian perspective to audiences in Chicago and elsewhere. With effort and imagination, this dream could be a present reality.”